Sunday, August 11, 2019

Spooky Van Gogh

So, I just finished reading an interesting book, VINCENT'S TREES (ed. Ralph Skea, Thames & Hudson), which I got at the Clark during our visit to Williamstown back in June. Van Gogh has long been one of my favorite artists, and I've loved trees for as long as I can remember.* A favorite artist tackling a favorite subject: seemed like a natural fit as something I'd like.

I did, though it's been a book I've nibbled at rather than plunged in and read straight through. There's a lot to go back and forth over, to look at time and agaia. I knew he painted a great many outdoors scenes in addition to the bright sunflowers he's so famous for, but until this book pointed it out I hadn't noticed how many of them feature trees. I also hadn't known his artistic career was so short (about a decade), nor how prolific he was during that time (about nine hundred pictures).

I've long considered Van Gogh a good test of Ian Richard's theory** that what you know about an author (or in this case artist) influences what you see when you experience their work.  For example, looking at one of Van Gogh's landscape at first you might notice the bright colors, swirling energy, and sheer exuberance. Being told that, a year or so later, Van Gogh walked into one of those fields and shot himself, most of us now find sinister elements on a second look. The picture itself hasn't changed, but what we see when we look at it might.

One thing I had not appreciated is how spooky I found some of the pictures. There were some that I though wd do v. nicely to illustrate M. R. James or serve as the cover for one of his books: figures standing in the middle distance looking at us but too far away to see their features, or indeed whether they even have any. Here are a few examples:

There's even a mild hint of Lovecraft in one piece: I thought the following wd make a pretty good representation of a Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath while quiescent. 

Finally, so long as we're on the subject, here are my two favorite Van Goghs, both of which I used to have posters of that I hung in many an apartment and office over the years.

--John R.
--current reading: TOUCH NOT THE CAT by Mary Stewart (to see what her non-Arthurian, non-fantasy work is like).
--current viewing; an online watch-as-they-play CALL OF CTHULHU scenario set in the Crystal Palace.

*I must be one of three people who still remember the little cherry tree we had in our backyard at Monticello, or the sprawling mimosa in a neighbor's yard.

**a core element of the so-called New Criticism.

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